(director: Henry Hathaway; screenwriters: Dudley Nichols/from the comic-strip by Harold Foster; cinematographer: Lucien Ballard; editor: Robert Simpson; music: Franz Waxman; cast: James Mason (Sir Brack), Janet Leigh (Princess Aleta), Robert Wagner (Prince Valiant), Debra Paget (Ilene), Sterling Hayden (Sir Gawain), Victor McLaglen (Boltar), Donald Crisp (King Aguar), Brian Aherne (King Arthur), Barry Jones (King Luke), Mary Philips (Queen), Primo Carnera(Sligon), Mary Philips (Queen); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Robert L. Jacks; 20th Century-Fox; 1954)
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Prince Valiant is based on the comic-strip by Harold Foster, that first appeared in newspapers in 1937. It’s cartoonishly written by Dudley Nichols and lazily directed by Henry Hathaway (“True Grit”/”The Sons of Katie Elder”/”Niagara“). Though colorful as a costume period film in CinemaScope and wide screen, the acting is stiff and the adventure story is filled with cliches. A young Robert Wagner is given his first starring role. He plays Prince Valiant, son of the King of Scandia, King Aguar (Donald Crisp), during the Middle Ages and time of King Arthur (Brian Aherne) in Briton. Wagner wore a silly looking pageboy black wig to play Valiant, which made him the butt of good-natured jokes from his actor pals.
The traitorous pagan Viking named Sligon (Primo Carnera, the boxer) forcefully removes from power the Christian Viking King of Scandia, who goes into exile with his wife (Mary Philips) and son Prince Valiant. Aguar orders Prince Valiant to travel to Camelot in Briton and train to be a knight of the Round Table under his friend King Arthur, and to some day return to Scandia and defeat Sligon and return the kingdom to its rightful Christian rulers. James Mason is the duplicitous Sir Brack, a knight of the Round Table who secretly schemes to overthrow King Arthur and rule Camelot. Brack disguises himself as a Black Knight and makes a deal with Sligon to deliver all the royal exiles to him in return for full Viking support to attack King Arthur.
Sterling Hayden plays the virtuous Sir Gawain, who mentors Prince Valiant by teaching him how to joust. He also makes him his squire. Janet Leigh plays Val’s beautiful love interest Aleta, while Debra Paget plays her pouty younger sister Ilene, who is the love interest of Gawain. Barry Jones plays King Luke of Ord, the clueless father of Aleta and Ilene.
It’s mildly entertaining and visually pleasing, otherwise it’s quite ordinary.
REVIEWED ON 2/7/2011 GRADE: C+